Editorial: Richland County voters should say ‘yes’ to effort to keep library a gem

10/24/2013 12:00 AM

10/23/2013 5:35 PM

THERE IS NO denying the award-winning Richland Library’s invaluable contributions to this community: It is a resource of endless information, an economic engine, a gathering place, a remedy to the digital divide and the place where the young and old still can experience the pleasures of reading — whether via print or eBook.

It’s those attributes that compel us — and, we hope, Richland County voters — to support the proposed $59 million bond issue that would allow the system to continue efforts it already has begun to transform its main location and branches into the high-tech, information-rich meeting places needed to serve this community well into the 21st century.

While library officials have done a laudable job so far of beginning the transition, the system needs a large-scale makeover that can be accomplished only with special help from taxpayers. If voters say “yes” to the Nov. 5 referendum, Richland Library will renovate or expand seven branch libraries and build two new facilities, one to replace the Sandhills branch in the Summit and another in Ballentine. A new branch in Eastover opened earlier this year.

Approval would mean a property tax increase of $12 to $14 a year for the owner of a $100,000 home — or $24 to $28 a year for the owner of a $200,000 home.

We understand concerns about increasing property taxes during this slow economic recovery. And if voters choose to make the libraries a priority, the 11-member Richland County Council should accept it as such and refrain from adding new programs or initiatives in other county agencies that would require additional tax increases, beginning with the next fiscal year’s budget.

In most instances, we would agree that the timing isn’t right for such a giant undertaking. But Richland Library, named National Library of the Year in 2001 by the Library Journal and the Gale Group, is one of the jewels of Richland County and is in serious need of upgrades that would be much cheaper to undertake now — when the costs of borrowing money and building are low — than later.

The library has been a great resource as people have sought to remake themselves to find new work, land their first job or become entrepreneurs. It has a 40-computer jobs center staffed by librarians who provide career-counseling services such as interview preparation, using social media in a job search and starting a home-based business.

Over the past two decades, Richland Library has grown mightily; its circulation of more than 5 million items a year — double the number of checkouts in 1993 — makes it the busiest system in the state. The library has added laptops, DVDs, eBooks, Wii games and downloadable audio-books and magazines to its inventory.

Obviously, taxpayers foot the bill through their property taxes for the system and the marvelous services it provides. But beyond that, there is no charge to county residents for the library’s myriad offerings — and that’s a point that can’t be understated.

In this age of “Google it,” we seem to overlook the fact that so much of what we might be looking for either can’t be found or comes at a cost. More importantly, much of what is found online isn’t expertly or purposely chosen and evaluated like it is apt to be at your local library. There remains a great need for the expertise libraries bring to providing books, newspapers, documents, magazines and journals — whether in printed or digitized form.

For years now, Richland Library has proven to be among the best anywhere. On Nov. 5, Richland voters should vote to help keep it that way.

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